Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The gap between the CHSRA project and reality gets ever larger

Yes, there is a lot of political manipulation going on.  The rail authority and its legislative supporters like to point out that the cost of building this train -- presumably whatever those costs might be -- will be less than adding to the overburdened highways and airports we now have, and we would be obliged to do build those additions.  And that, they threaten, will cost more. 

Where does it say that highway expansion and increasing the number of available runways is optional, and that with the presence of a luxury fast train we wouldn't have to bother with those roads and runways.  Indeed, it's not merely expansion of the current transit systems we have that is at stake, but repairing them, because we have neglected them for decades. If we have this luxury train, we can then abandon our highways and airports?  Is that what they want us to believe?  What nonsense.

Katy Grimes makes the point that the state government has been neglecting highway maintenance intentionally, in order for us to demand an alternative solution; that is, the high-speed train.  I don't believe that. It's too sophisticated an idea for the government.  

But, there should be no doubt that this neglect has indeed been taking place. Another explanation for it is that such repairs are not politically advantageous; one doesn't get re-elected for fixing pot-holes. It's much more vote-getting to have photo ops. standing in front of glossy pictures of high-speed trains, or ribbon-cutting for new rail corridors.

It is important to point out yet once more, that this comparison of high-speed rail with those other, ostensibly more expensive alternatives of building additional highway lanes and additional runways has been going on as long as the rail authority has been giving us cost forecasts for the train.  When the train cost $43 billion, and that was considered too high, we were threatened with dire consequences for not building the train; that is, the more expensive alternative of obligatory additional roads and runways was going to cost $70 billion.

Then, as the price of the trains kept escalating, it was necessary to have that undesirable and more costly alternative stay more costly.  So, today, when the train will cost $98.5 billion, those alternatives are now priced at $170 billion.  Coincidence?  You be the judge!

What's my point? This 'alternative' argument is marketing nonsense.  Be afraid, be very afraid, if you don't love and support high-speed rail.  Oh, Please!

Not surprisingly, all the Democrats are not shocked at the higher prices.  They consider them a whole new transparency and honesty.  Look the HSR says, we are not going to steal merely $43 billion; we are going to steal $78.5 billion. Now, isn't that more honest?  Thank you for your truthfulness, CHSRA.  

Furthermore, the Democrats say, this isn't stealing; it's paying for jobs, for a new economy, for our future.  (Whether we even need this train or not is a minor issue.) And, that's where they didn't do their homework. Because it isn't any of those things. It's far fewer jobs than promised.  It will be a cost burden on the state and the US, and obsolete inter-city rail is, hopefully, not our future.  And it certainly won't be a WPA project, or the creation of a whole new labor force for the Unions to enlist.  

By the way, it won't be anywhere near as fast as they had previously promised.  Just like in China where, after their horrific accident, they had to slow the whole system down. We aren't hearing anything about that right now. 

Why are we so eager to imitate China and their high-speed rail fiasco?  Does California also have a billion people eager to get home to their farms on holidays?

NEW: High Speed Financial Train Wreck

NOV. 2, 2011

The news that the California High-Speed Rail Authority finally revealed its long-awaited business plan only made the state’s residents more suspicious of the monster rail system. With a $99 billion price tag, a 300 percent cost increase since the 2008 voter-approved measure, and a claim of more than 1 million jobs created, High-Speed Rail appears to be taking over as the WPA project of California’s future.

But many say that $99 million is not the final figure. The the plan, originally billed as a $9.9 billion bond measure for a $40 billion train system, now has unlimited borrowing and spending, as well as a yearly $5.3 billion cost for upkeep.

HSR officials were all cheer and optimism as they presented the plan, originally due in early October. But officials also showed a penchant for glossing over facts with wild estimates of job creation and transportation numbers they said will be needed for California’s growing population.

California labor union officials seemed to love the plan. “The California High Speed Rail business plan brings us closer to making our vision of clean, efficient transportation and good jobs a reality in California,” wrote Labor leader Art Pulaski in a Twitter message.

More Waste
But rail experts disagree. “California High Speed Rail is likely to increase energy, energy waste, and greenhouse gas because its route is 20 percent longer than the highways, and 217 miles per hour trains consume more energy per passenger mile than conventional trains or autos,” Rich Tolmach recently wrote in an op-ed.

Tolmach, a rail expert and enthusiast, has been critical of the California High Speed Rail Authority over the planned waste and inefficiencies. “European high speed rail are cost effective because they are on the ground and bypass most cities, instead of blasting through them,” Tolmach wrote in an op-ed on the High-Speed Rail Talk blog.

Tolmach has been critical of California’s High-Speed Rail plans because he says officials and planners ignore lessons already learned by Europeans. “Europeans stopped building elevated trains in the 1930's — the same reason that California stopped building elevated freeways. Turning CalTrain’s 47 mile track from San Francisco to San Jose, which has 79 mile per hour speeds, into a quadruple-track elevated rail is a wet-dream for the authority.”

Tolmach, just like many people in California, wants to see more rail, but not at the expense of efficiency and cost-effective plans.

The High-Speed Rail Authority predicts that California will need to spend “tens of billions of dollars in expanded transportation systems over coming decades,” as outlined in the plan. “But High Speed Rail can meet the demands.”

High-Speed Rail officials estimate $18.7 billion annually in wasted time and fuel on our roads. And they state that the airline flights between San Francisco and Los Angeles are the most delayed in the country.

Instead of upgrading airports and using transportation taxes for the state’s roads, it appears that state officials have been allowing the roads to degrade in order to get residents so fed up, an alternate transportation plan, at any cost, will be accepted.

Rail officials had their own estimates for airline and road updates and repairs. The High-Speed Rail business plan states that 2,300 miles of new highways, 115 new airport gates and four new airport runways will be needed over the next 20 years, at a cost of $170 billion. So why not instead invest $99 billion into High-Speed Rail instead?

But the infrastructure is already in place for highway and air travel. California’s roads are in such a state of disrepair, they need repair anyway.

Democratic Support
Democratic Legislators were supportive and optimistic about the plan, even with the “sticker shock,” as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said. “It’s a tough and honest assessment of the challenges ahead,” Steinberg said. And he touted the 100,000 jobs the plan states will be hired in the first phase.

“This plan is current, transparent and realistic,” said Mike Rossi, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s Jobs Czar.

As Democrats proclaimed support for the business plan, Republicans were saying, “I told you so.” Board of Equalization Member George Runner, a former state senator, has been predicting that the High-Speed Rail costs would escalate. Runner said in a statement that that the voters should be able to decide if the plan should go forward. Otherwise it is a breach of contract since the costs have tripled since Proposition 1A, which authorized the HSR, was passed in 2008.

Another Vote?
Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Redlands, advanced that plan. LaMalfa announced yesterday he is introducing a bill that would allow voters to give the rail spending plan a thumbs-up or down.

LaMalfa proposed a bill during the last legislative session that would have de-funded High-Speed Rail, but it was killed in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

The bill now is up for reconsideration. LaMalfa said he will bring back SB 22, as well as his new bill, and push both of the bills through. “It’s important to run the legislation and let the voters weigh in on it, as they did the first time,” LaMalfa said. 

“The Legislature could just sit on approving the spending plan and not formally approve it, letting it hang out there, but too many people and especially farmers would not know what the future holds. It’s important to get voter input and finality.”

Currently, the High-Speed Rail Authority only has the $3 billion federal rail grant and the $9.9 billion approved by state voters. “The grant is burning a hole in their pockets,” LaMalfa said.

LaMalfa said the smart thing to do is give the money back to the federal government, “It’s a bad investment at this point.”

1.Rogue Elephant says: 
November 2, 2011 at 11:03 am 
This is California’s “Big Dig”. Boston’s $2.8 billion Big Dig was finished 9 years late, will cost $22 billion (including interest), and won’t be paid off until 2038.

California is broke and can’t afford this $99 billion boondoggle. The state should heed the old adage, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”.

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